I have a confession to make, dear readers, that I find hard to blog about as it is something that is quite personal to me but that I feel I need to write about today. I'm sure that Daisy could also testify to the fact that often what we blog about is more for our own sake than our readers! It is at times when you struggle most with something that reminding yourself of some hard truths is most needed.
A warning before I begin: I am only a young Christian girl who struggles in this area - to a lesser extent than many, but also more so than others. I am by no means an expert in this field and please, please, please do look beyond this post to the Bible and other reliable sources if you are dealing with depression, particularly if you are dealing with a more serious kind. This is purely written from my heart and own experiences, and is mostly as a reminder to myself when I am struggling with it.So please feel free to correct me if you feel I am wrong on any point!
That said, I will begin!
Violet's List of What-To-Do When Depressed (From A Christian Perspective)
(Not necessairly in order of importance!)
The first question you need to ask when you feel depressed is one relating to sin. Over the years as I have struggled with mood swings (extremely happy to extremely sad within moments) the one consistant pattern I have noticed is connected to sin. Usually it is the times when I am consciously or unconciously rebelling against God and His Word that I feel most down. Which really should not be surprising when you come to think of it! Ever since we rebelled against God in the garden of Eden, we have been promised that life will not be easy and that it will be fraught with trials.
"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you 'You shall not eat of it', cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return." ~ Genesis 3:17-19
Quite often, our depression is due to the fact that we want to be in control of some area in our lives rather than surrendering it to God, and when we can no longer handle the problem, rather than clinging to Christ, we return to ourselves for a solution and, not surprisingly, often find no solution at all in that! We really do need to put our lives under God's control!
What I am not saying is that if you are depressed you are sinning, but that you need to examine yourself regardless and use this time to let the Lord show you what may be causing these depressive tendencies. And bear in mind that depression itself can be a form of sin if you allow it to grow and consume you and lead you away from the Lord. (A quick note here too: we can also become depressed when we are suffering trials, even when they seem to be a conseqence of the sins of others not ourselves. This could be a whole post on its own, but I believe the key there is forgiveness; asking the Lord to help you forgive those who have wronged you).
So...to sum up in a nutshell: first look at your life and ask is there some area that I am not surrendering to the Lord's provision and control? And if I've been wronged by others, am I willing to forgive rather than becoming bogged down in negativity?
While part of depression may be due to sin that we haven't dealt with in our lives, another part of it that is just as deadly is our understanding and belief in God's grace. Too, too often I have become focussed on the negative in life because I simply refuse to accept that such a great and just God can, has and will forgive me for past, present and future sins. And while it is true that we must examine our lives and see where we are not following the Lord as we should, that is only the first half of it. If we only looked at the sin in our lives, we would be depressed for sure: in fact, I'd be worried if you weren't! This is where it is so important to be a true Christian and to understand that in and of ourselves we can't stop sinning - but that Christ has already paid the penalty that we deserved! Of course, we should strive for godliness and holiness in our lives to please and glorify Him, but we should never let frustration over our inability to deal with sin lead to depression. Rather, we need to turn everything over to Him, and ask Him to help us overcome it. For,
"...the disciples ...were greatly astonished saying, 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible." ~ Matthew 19:25,26
We need to cling to the cross and realize that in and of ourselves we can't deal with sin but that through God's mercy and grace we can follow Him.
The next thing you need to do if you struggle with depression is be involved in a church! Getting involved in the lives of other believers, while it may be hard initally, can be really rewarding as it helps us to stay accountable as well as be encouraged by fellow brothers and sisters. I can recall countless instances where if it were not for getting together at church and being convicted by the Holy Spirit and the witness and testimony of my brothers and sisters, I would have been even more tempted to wallow in my own sorrows. It also helps you to see outside of your own situation as you see the struggles others are going through, many times worse than your own, and are able to uplift them in prayer (more on that next).
This is closely linked to church, but can also be applied in a more general sense whether it be in your local community, home or workplace. Basically, when you begin to feel the stormclouds gathering, that is the time to become proactive and fully immersed in serving others. When you see a need, meet it! You will be so surprised, as I have been, as to how much this lifts the focus off yourself and onto other people and their needs and how quickly you come to realise that actually, you are not the only person on the planet who suffers and has bad things happen! After all just think of Job! Things could always be worse.
One suggestion that has really helped me is serving the elderly in rest homes by visiting to them and maybe playing some music for them, if that is your gift. To see these people who may no longer have the full function of their bodies or in some cases even their memories is really humbling and helps you to quickly see how much you do have.
Read the Bible
It should go without saying that reading the Bible is imperative if you are struggling with depression. At times, it may seem like you get nothing out of it, or it just goes over your head, but I can tell you from experience that establishing a good habit and discipline of Bible reading is really helpful! When you are down, one of the first things you often want to get rid of is Bible readings as it either convicts you, showing your inadequacies, or it is a way you feel you can "punish" God for whatever trial He is calling you to endure that is making you depressed. Either way, if you have already established a habit of reading the Bible and persist in it no matter how down you feel, you will be amazed at how much it helps.
Pray - particularly for others
Pray, pray, pray! It cannot be emphasised enough! One of my serious regrets when I am down is that I often try to "deal with it" myself. This is the wrong, wrong, wrong approach! When we are down is when we need to cling to Christ the most and cry out in dependence upon Him, just as the Psalmists so often did:
"O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles..." ~ Psalm 88:1-3
Also use the time to serve others in another capacity: by praying for them! I am convinced that part of our problem with depression is that we become so wrapped up in our little worries and concerns, no matter how big or small they may be, that we lose focus entirely of what others are going through currently. Some recent examples of this in my own life from just today is that my parents were speaking to some other parents about some recent struggles of one kind and another they'd had - only to find that these parents had experienced the exact same thing! In this way, we were all able to see that our struggles are actually not as unique as we might think they are. In a similar instance, I was talking to an older lady at my church, complaining about someone had wronged me etc. etc. and she showed me how she had been wronged in much worse ways in the past, which really shed some light on the issue and helped me to see that really, things weren't that bad and why was I complaining?
Furthermore, hearing information about the persecuted church around the globe and praying for them can quickly pull you out of your own despairs by turning your heart towards thankfulness to God for what He has given you and what He spares you from currently.
Have an accountability partner!
One of the best things to do if you struggle with depression is to find a strong Christian, preferably who doesn't struggle in this area, to be your accountability partner (thank you Daisy for being mine)! Be brutally honest with them as to where you are at spiritually, emotionally, mentally and so on and ask them to be brutally honest with you in return. They can then tell you when they think you are being inconsistent in your walk with Christ, can warn you when they think you are headed for the slippery slope of self-pity, can help you out of it, can encourage you when you are on track...their helpfulness is endless! Of course, you must make sure your accountability partner does have some degree of spiritual maturity and is reliable, and preferably does not struggle in the same areas that you do as otherwise you may just lead each other down a bad path! And also, never ever follow an accountability partner's advice if it contradicts scripture. After all, they are human and sinners like you and will make mistakes and give wrong advice from time to time! So be careful in what advice you follow, but do make sure you have someone keeping you in check.
Fill your mind with things above
So you are overwhelemed with troubles, guilt over sin and so on which is making you feel depressed and your emotions go up and down? A solution is don't think about yourself so much: rather think about God! Fill your mind so much with things above that the problems of today pale in significance and God's glory seems all the more greater. There are many ways this can be done, below are some suggestions of things that have helped me.
Verses round the house - especially if you, like me, are no good at memorizing verses! Blue-tack them in places (I highly recommend a bedside table!) where you will see them throughout the day and be reminded of some truth from God's word (see this post for more on that).
Listen to (uplifting!) music - it is amazing how much putting a lighthearted tune can help you to feel happier. And even better: try listening to a hymn or other Christian song with powerful lyrics that help you to think about Him. A good starting point is my favourite hymn, When Peace Like a River, which has really helped to soothe my soul and reassure me of God's goodness in times when I feel down. Reading the history behind it really helps to make the hymn all the more amazing! Seriously, I don't think anything I'll ever experience will be as bad as what they had to go through!
Read (good) books and/or blog posts etc. - never take what is written by others as the ultimate truth (only the Bible is that!) and so be willing to critique what you read, but I can assure you that reading will help! Particularly try and read biographies or autobiographies about fellow Christians who have struggled but overcome trials of various kinds - I recommend The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and Joni by Joni Eareckson-Tada which were both influential in helping me through difficulties.
Well, this has ended up being a much longer post than I ever intended it to be, but I hope it has helped you in some small measure and has not come across as too "preachy". :P It's rather late now so I'll leave it at that, but God bless you all and remember that He is always with you no matter how bad things get! :) (James 1:2-18)